Theater saves lives.

I was dragging. I’d just gotten off the phone with my father. Uncle Gene and my dad said yes, I should come up. My mom was in the ICU already a day, on a ventilator. Oh, this really could be serious. But she’s fine, right? You should come up. Just in case.

In case? In case of what? She’ll be fine. It could go one way or the either. No. It could only go one way. She was going to get through this and get better. Well…


Friday night, while we were partying it up at Coachella, she’d told my dad she needed antibiotics and felt the way she had in Trallee, Ireland – pneumonia. The only thing open at midnight (their time) was emergency. So they went and immediately she was admitted for low sodium. Then the diagnoses and fears started pouring out. On Monday, she had to be intubated – a term I’d never heard of.


My father was overwhelmed emotionally, discombobulated and my bro was exhausted from teaching his morning classes. We were still recovering from Coachella.


I started to get ready. Dragging. Packing. I was going through clothes, jewelry, books. I was shocked. Every other item I picked up was a gift from my mother. A blouse. A vintage costume. A James Dean writing notebook. A bracelet. I’ll pack happy clothes, bright colors. Snappy. Here’s a blouse that was (was? Is!) hers when she and my dad went to Mazatlan and I was back with my aunt and cousin with strep throat. Black background with yellow parrots, purple. I’d always loved this fabric. I’d often been angry that she would dump stuff on me. The clutter was endless. She wanted to get rid of stuff, true, but the stuff was usually delicate, or whimsical (the 40s razor set) that would be great props for a stage show, but that somehow I would break or let dust collect or put in the garage. Bags she would bring of articles from the Nation and San Jose Merc and bags of jewelry from costumes or Aunt Lorene who’d lived in Hawaii or both of my grandmothers – she was on a slow starting to sift through the costume accessories in preparation. Of the end? Or for her, the costumer, to get me, the actress, ready for my next entrance.


It was always our relationship. I had a demand for something, usally a dress for an upcoming dance or a Halloween costume, or a hat, or shoes. Friends from high school, and college, and neighbors and friends would come over to see what Nancy might have to add to some costume or could she sew a cat in the hat outfit. Just two weeks earlier I had a Great Gatsby party and needed shoes and jewelry from the 1920s. I had a message from her within an hour: I found the ____ shoes that I’d forced you to get. I’d never even heard of the fabric – but I needed them NOW.


I was packing. There were the shoes. Crushed at the bottom of my trunk. The night of my party I’d forgotten even to wear them in my drunken carelessness.


Driving up, I decided to stay comfy and wear what I’d been wearing that morning. A beachy hot salmon dress I’d bought at a thrift store in Encinitas. Though shorty short, the crochet kept my boobs up and could go braless. I found a huge fabric yellow flower I’d just bought from H M and stuck that in my hair. I put on yellow sweats and a Pisces jacket (for her) Thinking of my mom in everyway.

I thought this is the perfect costume of hope.


Normally, a speeder, I drove the speed limit.

Calls from my bro made me think even more, something was not right. Were they not telling me the truth.


Night 1


Finally arrived at around 8. Saw my father in the hallway.

Oh good, so glad you’re here. He stopped me, well she’’s hard to tell. It could go one way or the other.


That was all I needed to hear. We were still in the ICU, not the morgue or wherever.

No it can’t it can only go one way. She’s going to get better. Hope dad, and you have to stop being an Eyore. You’re upsetting Ian with all Doom and gloom. Yeah? He looked at me skeptically. Yes. Cut it out. He nodded away.


Now careful she’s got tubes coming in so be prepared. I nodded. She hasn’t opened her eyes much, but a few hours. She’s  I could feel my soldiring up. I had not a doubt – my sunny costume fit the need.


Mom? Hi! It’s Beth. How are you – with the brightest clowny smile.

The doctors,  was informed would come in the morn. The nurse told me and Ian to stop touching her – she was being overstimulated. Look at her heart


She pointed to a monitor – I looked to my bro and dad – thy’d not asked what was up there. I said, what’s this that this that – green neon on the top – her heart . Blue – blood pressure – she had the clamp on her right upper arm. The pink – her oxygen saturation or CO2 levels.


On her wrist was. In her neck on the right side, the IV because the veins in her hands were torn up and almost inaccessible. The few inches on her lower arm were the only apce to touch. We stroked it


Or a spot on her left shoulder. She’d flinch on the right beause of the IV in her neck. On her right and left wrists were taped cotton from the

I couldn’t believe that really, Ian had tried reading to her and was told to stop. We were thinking of her as a coma person, I guess, that she needed to be stimulated by living. except I can see she was exhausted and needed sleep. I couldn’t sleep if people were stroking me poking me all night either.


Have you talked to the doc, dad? A little bit. But we get from the nurses because the docs are different and in the morning.


We’d find this a constant circus – just when you thought you knew who the main handler was the doc would be off their shift. And a whole new crop would arrive. My mom got to saying every time someone new – blood people, respitory, social workers, media volunteers, cleaning peple, docs, internal medicine, residents, students, nebulizers, – who are you and what are your credits? Whats your gig?


They come in the morning, like 6 am. I’d never be up for that.


For 20 plus years, my parents had been going to bed at aroun4, or 5, or 6 am. My mom from the costume schedule and once the kids out of school and dad retirement he joined her They had barely seen the early morning except n it’s way in for all that time. Change in sleep patterns was near impossible overnight and the doctors did not related whatsoever.


I’m no morning person either, my bro neither – family gene. Or it was just uncool in our house. As a kid I raised myself in the morning on the weekends. On Nyday – they’d wake up as night was falling. Sundowners, they were calling it when elderly or COPD paitents were out of control.


Sundowners syndrome, also known as sundowning, is a condition often associated with the early stages of Alzheimer’s, although a definitive connection has not been made. Sundowners syndrome can also be considered a mood disorder or even a sleep disorder. Sufferers experience periods of extreme agitation and confusion during the late afternoon or early evening hours, leading to irritability towards caregivers or hospital staff. It was once believed that sundowners syndrome was a result of missed day/night light cues, hence the sudden onset at sundown. Current research points towards more organic causes such as drug interactions or stress associated with lower cognitive function.


But that was for the plebians, the day people, the morning people. For my mom, sundown was midmorning. And it was then they’d ask


He was forced to train himself for teaching at 7 am, but the pain of this was visible on his face. Not just fatiguq, but trauma. I’d feel it too in LA.


The only choice I had was to sleep at the hopsitbal so I could get the story of aht was going on, rather than passed through the oncall night docs, the nurses, the respitory therapists, the blood takers,




I’d somehow envisioned this and put my eye mask on. Thougr the night any stirring, I looked at her with the tubes, like some star wars Cantina creature. May the force be w you mom.




The lights flicked on – ow! Mrs Johnson, we’re here to take your blood.


The day started really at 4:27 am every day. So day became night became day This was the time my mom was usually just gong to sleep, maybe about to hit that REM and healing sleep. But the circus at the hospital starts at their time, not the patients’ time.


Whoever thought you could sleep in the


I jumped up out of the couch She opend her eyes. Mom, you’re awake.


Sharon will be coming


Her eyes flashed open – her heart rate jumped up, excited. Overexcited the nurse said. But her eyes were so clear and blue.


But what they couldn’t see, too, this was her nature. Social.


Flipping off the Sengalese nurse.


Intubation. Putting a tube. In. New term.


Intubation Holiday declared




Mask off


Oxygen, but she was starting to get loopy – co2 levels rise but only a little.


Dr. Won checked in on her before he left, I met him once the whole time. Though my ddad kept asking where’s doc wong.


Dos kept saying well, with her lung disease – wait, go back. What lung disease? Start over, we never knew anything about this. She came in for antibiotics.


Night 2 – ICU


Walk in and she’s talkinga bout being manhandled. Clean me up for gods sake woman. It’s embarrassing get a paper towel and pick up the poop


There was no poop.

My dad said you need rest – no shit. But was I really going to sleep at home?


He and bro were going to behere after I had to get back to roman.


Day 3


The lights flick on, the blood. Then

The same questions – where are you, year, who’s president.


I was starting to get irritated – same questions she had them memorize? Robably how’s her mental state? Great with mask, faded slowly after oxyget

I wasn’t going to tell doc moore and captain kennedy that while she knew she was at Kaiser., she thought she was in the desrt on a pod, with special invite because both uncles had worked on space shuttle or appollo.



Physical therapy – wearing yourself out.




it seems she’s got lung disease (COPD) possibly from 40 years of smoking, even though she quit 10 years ago. Her CO2 levels are too high and is in ICU, well now step down room. Been pretty scary since at one point she essentially stopped breathing. They had her on ventilator with tube, now she’s down to a mask.


She was getting better, and was being a hoot from the increased CO2 levels and steroids and narcotics – thinks most of the docs are astronauts and that this is all part of a theatre piece. She gets irate that in the theatre at least the actors rehearse their torture but here these vampire fascists don’t know what they’re doing with all the needle pricking (her arms are black and blue from constant blood taking) and restraints (when the tubes were in they had to tie her hands down so she wouldn’t pull out tubes and nose feed) – it’s awful for her. She’s sick of being their pin cushion. She keeps pulling needles or tubes out – last night pulled out her neck device for IV. Ian was here for that. Scary.


The docs still worry about her breathing. But besides the astronauts and desert talk, she’s been more in reality and her spirits good, too. Humor and personality all there – we’ve been singing lots. Tough as nails.


I’ve been sleeping in the room for past three days, so I’m pretty exhausted. Ian and my dad come every day. Been wearing a yellow flower in my hair to bring in the Aloha. Pray.


Ian thinks she’s have ESP. She is constantly talking about getting Aunt Ev’s birthday card out and that she doesn’t want Aunt Ruth or Aunt Ev to know she’s in the hospital. “They’re too old and sick and it would upset them.” she worries. One of her rants is that she is upset that “Aunt Sally and Alicia are spreading rumors that she’s had a stroke and is in hospice.” She’s convinced our neighbor put the news about a stroke in the newspaper and she wants to correct the misnomer. Ian and I think she’s channeling Aunt Ev. We haven’t filled her in yet, obviously not the time.




Dad and his Good luck Nancy shirt.


There were astronauts.


There’s a crazy astronaut in all of us.


I wish you’d seen Camille’s show. There was no show? There was! It was a production.


Oh yes.


There was a show.


I couldn’t tear myself away. We’re still in the second act.


Hear ye! THEATER SAVES LIVES! Once the ventilator tubes were out, they told her she might not talk for days. Pshaw! She started quoting Hamlet. When the nose feeder came out, we sang “Food Glorious Food!”(Oliver). When friends brought flowers, we sang “Who Will Buy My Sweet Red Roses?” (Oliver again) When they wheeled her out of ICU to a step down… Read More (step up!), we sang Fiddler on the Roof through the halls. About her oxygen mask and the scrubs, she said “They don’t have sequins or tassels, but oh well.” From Godspell to Evita, Shakespeare to Alan Bennett (she kept quoting Madness of King George) and Samuel Beckett (“We are all born mad, some of us remain so”) – all the world IS a stage.


My mom is much better, she’s in rehab for physical therapy for a couple weeks, on oxygen. The Filipina nurse ladies taking care of her. 🙂 Her roommate is 83 year old chihuahua owning lady named Dona. My mom’s been obsessed with pet therapy and Beverly Hills Chihuahua after we watched it in ICU, so it’s perfect godsend!